Azkals anyone?:)

Monday, September 19, 2011

I don’t know how weird it is, but I grew up with the reality that sports (in general) I guess any physical activity you could think of and I are not a match made in heaven mijnus the not so strenous sports like volleyball and badminton.  Although basketball seems like the greatest game on earth (at least, in the Philippines),  incoming flying balls scare the hell out of me, which makes me ineligible to play almost all kinds of sport or maybe I am just too scared to try it, maybe in the near future.  When I was in high school, Intramurals were nothing more than a three-day-well-deserved vacation for me.  But like that story told by whomever, there’s always a twist, that moment of realization where whoever is in the story should reconsider everything she thought was right in her life.  I guess mine dramatically came with the Azkals (Philippine National Football Team) and the recently concluded Asean Football Federation (AFF) Suzuki Cup.

I first heard “football” when I learned to play that random game where the rules are basically similar to a baseball game with the exception of batting the ball.  I guess they called it “football” because the player will kick the ball, which is bigger but lighter ‘cause it’s made of plastic than a baseball, rolled by the pitcher.  I never understood football.  Waiting for a goal seemed like the closest approximation of forever.  Teams and leagues evolved worldwide.  David Beckham became a star, a hot star.  Everyone tweeted madly about their favorite teams and players during the World Cup last summer.  Nothing hit me.  My life still went on without inhaling the football spirit and chanting the words of football fanatics.  Then came the news about the Azkals’ victory over the 2008 AFF Suzuki Cup champion, Vietnam, last December 05.  It finally hit me and google search hits about Phil and James Younghusband crazily went up.  I never thought (or should I say who would have thought?) that the Philippine national football team could do that in any lifetime, in my lifetime, at least.Of course, I was very interested with the players as well, not to mention they’re cute and I can go on..

Frankly, I don’t know the terms and rules in football, and you can kill me now but I can’t even namedrop one of the greatest football teams in the world.  I don’t know how I knew it, but seeing the Azkals play their hearts out since I’ve turned my eyes towards football and the team, I could not help but smile you know that smile you see on people’s faces in weddings or that face on parents when they see their kid play as a cactus in his kindergarten’s first school play? Yeah, that smile.  I felt proud and grateful that I am a Filipino, and it felt great.  I don’t know how I can emphasize how great it was, but really, it was awesome.

The team lost against Indonesia in the AFF semi-finals yet I have realized so much because of them.  I would have not noticed them if they did not qualify for the semis.  I or we would have not known that they’re there, willing to represent the Philippines and proudly scream Mabuhay ang mga Pilipino (Long live the Filipinos) for the whole world to hear.  As much as I hate to admit it but I am one of those Filipinos who only took time watching and cheering them on because they WON (against Vietnam).  Why would I/we bother supporting a losing team? Before the Azkals’ 1st game against Indonesia, I expected them to win.  I wanted them to win.  Who wouldn’t? But I realized, this time, it’s not always about winning.

I did my research so I know that Each team gets to play a home game.  The Azkals’ home game was their first game in the semis.  They tasted the warmth of any home game in Gelora Bung Karno in Indonesia.  Just the idea of it annoys me.  That’s more painful than how I imagine heartbreak feels like.  Being only familiar with basketball games, I know that a home game will always be advantageous to the team: whatever the players do (even an obvious foul), the audience will always be on their side (consistently booing the referee and the other team).  When I heard that the Azkals could not play in the Panaad stadium in Bacolod since that venue did not pass the AFF standards, I felt, with my “basketball knowledge”, that that decision deserves a teary-eyed boo.  HOME GAME.

I thought it was unacceptable and unfair.  Finding some comfort from tweets of undying support for the team, I eventually realized that if Azkals defeated Vietnam in Hanoi, they CAN win again even if it’s in Jakarta.  They can win anywhere.  That’s how fearless Filipinos are.  Backing out has always been excluded from our Plan A to Plan Z.  We keep in mind that failure is inevitable but will not always be enough to stop a Filipino dream.  Honestly, the team not playing in Bacolod was, in a way, in favor of them.  The Azkals were saved from a game where politicians and celebrities hungry for power and any chance of corrupting Filipinos’ minds and wallets and attention could have overshadowed the history that the Azkals were trying to create.  Yes, that home game, which the team has worked hard for and dreamt of for years, was stolen from them, but they were given a well-deserved opportunity to play the game they love whole-heartedly for their country who loves them back without the unnecessary drama of politics and show business.

I never knew how far Indonesians would go for the sake of their country until I watched the AFF Suzuki Cup.  I must admit that they deserve our respect for not giving up as much as the Azkals did.  I have always been proud of how Filipinos support each other in whatever competition known to man: beauty pageant, singing contest, reality show, vying for a Guinness book of world records spot, athletic events, any contest where a winner will be declared.  But I never knew that the time that we will be rooting for our own football team would come.  Although it was frustrating that we were not there during the games to cheer for the Azkals and make them feel the love we’ve deprived them of for all these years, I know that there were a lot of Filipinos who watched, cheered, shouted cursed because of the red card given to Greatwich at their TV screens.  I salute the Filipinos and the team.

Perhaps supporting our national football team is something we’re not used to (or maybe the support we showed during the AFF Suzuki cup 2010 games was not even half of what we’re capable of and what the world sees every time Manny Pacquaio steps in a boxing ring) and the Azkals has just entered this football arena of fighting for one’s country’s pride and glory.  We may seem amateur on this one, but this is definitely a battle we should never back out from.  Filipinos are not just known as the greatest boxer of all time punching and knocking people out.  Filipinos are not just capable of belting out the highest octave possible.  Yes, Manny Pacquaio and Charice Pempengco represented our country quite well and absolutely made Jose Rizal and all the heroes who died for us proud, but we should not hide behind them forever.  The Azkals are willingly giving us that chance to come out and see a different light this time.

Some say heroes are born while others say they are made.  I do believe they are born heroes, but they have to be made into one as well.  I don’t know if it’s just me or our country really needs heroes, lots of them, to erase or change the stereotypes we created for ourselves and how the world thinks of us, Filipinos.  Luckily, they’re given to us (and probably some died without us knowing that they existed), and the Azkals are one of them.  They are heroes, and heroes always save the day, but they need us as much as we need them.  The responsibility given to them as part of our national team will be more challenging if we continue to live in a society with a questionable system of justice and equality and a government which still fails to eliminate corruption and its roots.  Those heroes cannot just pull us out of all these dilemmas and give us the taste of victory and the world’s honor while we sit comfortably and constantly demand them to win and make us happy.  We don’t even have an internationally-qualified stadium made for them.  They need us to help each other out, to lighten the burden they have to carry for our country’s triumph.  I will always be grateful to the Azkals for reviving that faith on real change I’ve or we’ve lost along the way and for making us realize that football players and other athletes in the country lack the attention and support (in all aspects) that they deserve.  They may not have brought home the AFF Suzuki Cup trophy this year, but what they did was enough to jumpstart the game of the Azkals, the game of the Filipinos.  And with that, history will be made.

Kudos to the Azkals Philippine National Football Team!

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